Although Red Bull has won every race of the 2023 Formula 1 season, there is no team more convincing than McLaren at the moment.
The Woking team started the season among the bottom two F1 players, but in the last four races Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri have consistently finished well within the points, combining for five top five finishes.
It’s not surprising for a team to upgrade its cars over the course of a season, but McLaren’s transition from vaulting to the occasional boot-gnawing Red Bull is hard to fathom. The MCL60 is a completely different beast than it has been over the course of the year due to the changes to the under the floor, side panels and front wing.
The differences are slight to the untrained eye—due in part to the fact that the underfloor upgrades may be the most significant, but are not visible outside of the floor edge profiles—but the change in results is undeniable.
Since the introduction of these amendments in Austrian Grand PrixMcLaren has more points (86) than any team other than Red Bull, ahead of Mercedes (80), Ferrari (69), and Aston Martin (42).
They could have been further ahead of the group if Piastri had not crashed out of the Belgian Grand Prix on the first lap after qualifying fifth.
These are amazing results for a team that has only scored 17 points in the first eight races of the season with only one event where either driver finished above ninth (Australian Grand Prix).
Indeed, F1 has not seen anything like McLaren’s turnaround in recent years.
Since the current scoring system was instituted in 2010, 51 teams have produced fewer than 20 points in their first eight races. This pool averaged 15.9 points the rest of the seasons.
The most points achieved by any constructor was 68, achieved by Torro Rosso in 2019. This group really doesn’t compare to the 2023 McLaren team taking two huge chances to finish on the podium rather than finding a consistently higher level of performance.
Of those 68 points, 42 came from two chaotic races—including A.J German Grand Prix With only 13 cars completing each lap, six of the top 11 drivers in the championship standings did not make it to the finish line.
There are slightly more points available now than there have been in recent years with the fastest lap worth one point and the presence of standalone sprint events, but McLaren is clearly in a league of its own as far as mid-season development goes.
McLaren’s resurrection may not have come in time to top the standings as fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship is 88 points away with 10 races remaining. Catching Ferrari or Aston Martin if they continue their current clip is conceivable, but it will be an uphill battle.
The biggest repercussions of the team’s fortunes being turned could be on their drivers.
Norris is recovering from a disappointing 2022 season
Norris signed an £80m (just over $100m) contract extension ahead of 2022, but finished seventh last year with just one podium. He wasn’t doing much to inspire confidence early in 2023 outside of showing a strong sixth place in Melbourne.
Now he’s reminding the F1 world what he can do in a competitive car. In the first 91 races of his career, his best result was a second-place finish, which he succeeded once. In the last three races, he’s tied that for two. While Max Verstappen is considered a deadlock to win any given race, it’s hard to expect more.
If McLaren continued to put up a mediocre car, Norris could be looking forward to his second year in a row of mid-pack struggles with some sheen coming out of his reputation. Behind the wheel of the speedy MCL60, he looks like a driver who could win one of the sport’s top seats in the near future – and it’s easy to forget that he’s only 23 years old.
Norris sits just 23 points behind Carlos Sainz and 30 behind the duo of Charles Leclerc and George Russell. He could reach fifth place in the ranking if he kept rolling.
Biastri proves his strength
Piastri has more to gain from the new look of his car.
The Australian entered the season as a popular rookie, but only collected five points in the first nine races (he earned McLaren promotions one race after Norris). It wasn’t enough to make the F1 world question his talent, but as long as McLaren was worthless, it would be difficult to gauge what he had to deliver at the highest level.
Now Piastri has 34 points for the season – an excellent total for a rookie. The grid contains 16 drivers making their debuts under the current rules, and that group averaged 34.1 points in their first seasons starting at least half of their Formula 1 races.
Pastry has already matched that, and could outrun top dog Alex Albon (92 points in 2019) – who spent half his first season in a stellar Red Bull – if he continues at his current pace.
Not only would such an achievement be a boon to Piastri’s reputation, but finishing him strong could have a material impact on his career. The 22-year-old’s contract with McLaren runs until 2024, and he has the chance to put himself in an excellent negotiating position.
If Piastri had spent 2023 sabotaging for occasional points – as he would have been a few months ago – his influence will be greatly diminished.
With the MCL60 looking so good, it has a chance to show that the hype around it is justified. A strong second half to the season could see McClaren strain their pocket books to retain him or lure another top team to hunt him down.
McLaren is likely to return to its group after the summer break as Aston Martin has pledged Continue to work In its 2023 car, Mercedes could find more speed if it can tame the pace Porpoise issues Which is back in Belgium, and Ferrari can’t be completely ruled out with Charles Leclerc taking podiums in two of the last four races.
Even if that happens, what the team has already accomplished is remarkable. The duo of young drivers have already turned what might have been a wasted season into a reminder that they can compete with just about anyone.